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City of Alexandria, VA City of Alexandria, VA
Alexandria Archaeology Museum
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Page updated Jul 17, 2014 9:44 AM
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Archaeological Discoveries

Archaeologists first worked in Alexandria in 1961, when an excavation trench was dug across the bastion at Fort Ward during restoration of the earthworks. Since that time, over 200 archaeological sites have been registered with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Here a just a few of the many important discoveries made by Alexandria Archaeology and by Cultural Resource Management firms working in Alexandria under the provisions of the Alexandria Archaeological Protection Code.

The Alexandria Archaeology Bibliography provides a comprehensive listing of publications, site reports, and other written materials about archaeology in Alexandria, Virginia. 

“Alexandria Artifact Stories"  were published as a regular feature in the weekly newspaper from 1994 until 1997. The goal of the series was to take a small piece of a cultural heritage and examine it in a wider context to understand and appreciate its significance.

 


Canal Excavation 1986 image  Alexandria Canal 
The Alexandria Canal operated from 1843 to 1886. The Tide Lock, excavated in 1979, is now restored and can be seen along the Potomac River at the foot of Montgomery Street. provides
Piercy Pottery Washing Artifcats  Piercy Pottery – Alexandria Earthenware 
Henry Piercy was Alexandria’s first potter. He came from Philadelphia in 1792, and made slip-decorated earthenware in the Philadelphia style. Read “In the Philadelphia Style: The Pottery of Henry Piercy,” in Ceramics in America.
Alexandria Courthouse Dig image  Alexandria Courthouse – 500 King Street 
The site of the Alexandria Courthouse, on the 500 block of King Street, was the last of the six Urban Renewal blocks to be excavated in the 1960s and 1970s. Archaeologists excavated a number of wells and privies from commercial and residential properties. Artifacts relate to the households of slave-woman Harriet Williams, silversmith Adam Lynn, German and German-Jewish immigrants, and others.
Potomac Yard looking south, 1936  Potomac Yard Archaeologists assessed the former location of the Alexander family’s Preston plantation and cemetery, dating to the early 1700s, and the Alexandria Canal (1843–1887). The study area played a considerable role in rail transport, including by the United States Military Railroad during the Civil War. This image shows the Yard c. 1936, looking south (Library of Congress, LC-H814-T01-1015).
Freedom House Slave Pen image  Alexandria Slave Pen 
Archaeologists uncovered structural remains relating to the whitewashed brick wall surrounding the men's yard and a line of post holes for posts which once supported a shed roof. A few of the artifacts relate to the slave pen, while others were discarded at the site by soldiers held there during the Civil War when the building was used as a jail. Now known as Freedom House, 1315 Duke Street houses the offices of the Urban League. The Freedom House Museum is open to the public.
Portners Brewery Advertising image  Robert Portner Brewing Company 
This large brewery made Tivoli Brand lager beer from 1868 until Prohibition. A site report and an extensive history are available for this site.
Scow Hull at Keith's Wharf image  Alexandria Waterfront  
Discoveries at the Carlyle-Dalton Wharf, the Lee Street Site, Roberdeau’s Wharf and Keith’s Wharf are discussed in “Reaching for the Channel: Some Documentary and Archaeological Evidence of Extending Alexandria’s Waterfront” (Alexandria Chronicle).
 Shield's Bathhouse 

Shields's Folly: A Bathhouse in Old Town 
A deep feature discovered in a Royal Street basement in 2014 may be from an aborted effort to dig a well for Thomas Shields's bathhouse 200 years earlier. 

Bruin Slave Jail image  Bruin Slave Jail 
Joseph Bruin, a slave trader, used the building at 1707 Duke Street from 1844-1861, to house slaves before he shipped them to the south. The Bruin Slave Jail is on the National Register of Historic Places.
 Shuter's Hill Brewery Beer Cellar image   Shuter's Hill Brewery 
This early German lager brewery was built in 1858 and burned in 1893. The brick-vaulted beer cellar has been preserved under the corner of Duke and Dulaney Streets.
Brick-domed Cistern image  Cistern on South Fairfax Street 
A 19th-century cistern with a water filtration system was discovered in a back yard in 2006.
 Shuter's Hill Laundry image  Shuter’s Hill Plantation 
An ongoing excavation near the Masonic Memorial is exploring the Mills/Lee/Dulaney plantation, built in 1782. The mansion house burned in 1842, and was replaced by a larger brick house that was used by Union troops during the Civil War.
Crimean Oven image  Civil War Crimean Ovens 
In 2003 and 2004 archaeologists discovered Crimean Ovens, underground heating structures built by Union troops during the Civil War to heat hospital tents. Read the reports for sites 44AX193 and 44AX195.
 Apothecary Basement Excavation image  Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary 
In the 1980s, Alexandria Archaeology excavated two brick-lined shafts, portions of the old earthen floor, and a trash pit that pre-dated the brick buildings housing the Apothecary, which operated from 1796 to 1933.The Apothecary is now an Historic Alexandria museum.
Clara Adams headstone, Fort Ward Park 

Fort Ward Historical Park
The Office of Historic Alexandria is engaged in an effort to study and preserve the historic resources of Fort Ward Park. Learn more about 2009-2012 archaeological excavations focusing on resources relating to the post-Civil War African American community. In 2009, The City of Alexandria’s ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey identified 38 possible unmarked burials in six known and potential cemetery and grave locations in “The Fort” (44AX90) and the Old Grave Yard (44AX153). The adjacent photo shows "Fort" community leader Clara W. Adams' gravestone. Further archaeological work took place in 2012.

 Kiln Foundations Excavation image  Tildon Easton Stoneware Kiln 
Easton manufactured both earthenware and salt-glazed stoneware for a very short period of time, between 1841 and 1843. His kiln, on the 1400 block of King Street, was excavated in 1985. Reprinted with permission from Ceramics in America, edited by Robert Hunter (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 2004), pp. 249-252.
Freedmens Graveshafts image  Freedmen’s Cemetery 
Archaeological investigations at Alexandria Freedmen’s and Contrabands Cemetery on South Washington Street focused on the identification of burial locations to ensure protection during development and future maintenance of the site, and the recovery of information about the cemetery for use in the memorial design process. A memorial will open on the site in 2013.
 Glass Factory Furnaces image  Virginia Glass Company 
In 1997, Archaeologists working at the Carlyle development on Duke Street discovered foundations, furnaces, ovens, a chimney base, and thousands of artifacts from the Virginia Glass Company (1894-1916). Archaeologists also found evidence of a fire known to have taken place in 1895, and the fire that destroyed the business in 1916.
Lee Street Site Excavation image  Lee Street Site 
Excavations in 1997 explored the remains of late 18th century wharves, an early 19th century bakery and tavern, and a Civil War support complex for U.S. Military Hospitals. Finds from this site are on display in the exhibition “A Community Digs its Past: The Lee Street Site.
West Family Burial Vault image  West Family Cemetery 
Hugh West was one of the founders of Alexandria, and owned the tobacco inspection station at the foot of Oronoco Street. This family cemetery in Eisenhower Valley includes a family vault from the 18th century, which contains remains of Hugh's wife Sybil, son George, and daughter Sybil (the second wife of John Carlyle.) Remains from the vault and surrounding burials have been reinterred at Pohick Church.
Municipal Fire Well image  Municipal Fire Well 
An 1890s municipal fire well was discovered in 2006 at the corner of Gibbon and South Pitt Streets.
Stoneware: Smith Cake Pot image  Wilkes Street Stoneware Pottery 
This is the site of stoneware potters John Swann and B. C. Milburn. The Virginia Research Center for Archaeology conducted rescue excavations here on four weekends in 1977, recovering thousands of pottery fragments, pieces of kiln furniture used to stack the pottery, and a fragment of a brick interior arch from a kiln.

Alexandria Archaeology Museum
105 N. Union Street, #327
Alexandria, VA 22314
703.746.4399
Fax: 703.838.6491
Email 

Museum Hours
Tuesday - Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday, 1 - 5 p.m
Monday, Closed

Office Hours
Tuesday - Saturday
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
by appointment